As the cuts continue to bite, it is more important than ever that charities get their voices heard, and one way to do this is through telling good stories. In this post, originally published in NPC’s online magazine, Gemma Davidson shares her thoughts on how to write compelling case studies that win coverage.
A good case study can put an issue across in a way that an expert never could. As a journalist working in news and current affairs, one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had to do was to find case studies for a Panorama programme on the rising number of young male suicides. It was a tough job that involved trawling through coroner’s reports and contacting families of young men who had killed themselves. But I believe those case studies showed the devastating impact of suicide in a way that an interview with a doctor or psychologist couldn’t capture. The programme later won an award from the Mental Health Foundation.
Whether for campaigns, press launches, fundraising, PR or speeches, a good case study can speak volumes about a charity’s work and the people they help. So just what are the ingredients for a good charity case study?
- Be sure of the message you’re trying to get across. It can be difficult approaching someone and asking them to tell you their story. Which is why it makes sense to be sure you are interviewing the right person in the first place. I can’t count the number of time as a journalist I have been sent a press release with a case study that isn’t relevant to the story. Remember, a person’s story is only really worth using if it backs up the message you are trying to get across.
- Do your preparations. If you want to use the case study for press, check early on that the person feels comfortable being interviewed and that they will be available if a specific launch or event is planned. There is nothing worse for a journalist than convincing your editor to do a feature based on a powerful personal story only to be told that person is not available or their situation has changed. So try, where possible, to keep details current. It helps if whoever is going to be briefing journalists or making a speech has actually heard the person’s story first hand.
- Keep the story simple. When it comes to writing-up a case study, keep it simple and straightforward. Avoid jargon and clichés, and try and use quotes from the person involved to make it more personal and natural. The key is to engage people in a story but not to over-sentimentalise it. And keep them relatively short—a couple of paragraphs is the norm for a case study.
- Play by the rules. It is vital than you get permission from any person you interview to use their details. You should explain to them where the case study may be placed or who it will be sent to, and make it clear if it is going out as part of a press release. Sometimes people want to remain anonymous which is perfectly fine, but you will need to make that clear to journalists. While journalists tend to prefer to use real names they will understand, especially if it is a sensitive issue. Bear in mind there are of course special considerations to be made when dealing with children.
- Keep up contact. Finally a good way for charities to ensure they have good case studies is to keep up to date with front line staff who work directly with those the charity is helping. Once you hear about a positive story or a strong outcome it’s worth asking if that person or family would be willing to talk about their situation and if you could get in touch with them. All too often powerful stories are missed because of a lack of contact—it doesn’t hurt to ask.
This post was originally published in March 2010 as an article in NPC’s online magazine, Giving Insights.